Windows 7 home server hardware recs
May 31, 2011 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Looking to build a Intel Sandy Bridge Windows 7 machine that will primarily function as a centralized repository for mp3s, movies, and photos. Anyone have any hardware recommendations?

For the past several months, I've been trying to determine what type of machine to build to function as a home server in my apartment. I've compared pre-built NAS, custom WHS, and custom Win7 options and, with your help (twice), I've decided to pursue a custom Windows 7 build. You all have made me realize Windows 7 will offer me greater flexibility for the price.

My requirements for this machine:
1. store ~4TB of mp3s, movies, photos, and documents (probably 2x2TB drives)
2. stream audio to Win7 laptop-connected or Squeezebox-connected speakers
3. stream 1080p video to an HTPC-connected TV
4. be constantly running uTorrent
5. ability to rip optical discs (Blu-Ray, DVD)
6. function as backup computer in case laptop breaks
7. store backup image of laptop

Other attributes:
8. Will sit in a corner of my living room or bedroom without being connected to a keyboard or monitor.
9. The data on it will probably be backed up to some sort of NAS or set of USB drives.

Since it won't be a primary machine or gaming machine, I don't want to go overboard and buy an Core i7 Extreme and 8GB of RAM, but I don't want to skimp on it and run into HD video streaming problems.

Does anyone have any hardware recommendations for this build?

A. Should I buy an SSD for my OS partition?
B. Any ideas for a case that won't keep me up at night due to noise or ridiculous lights?
posted by decrescendo to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A. I wouldn't bother for a server. How often are you goign to reboot or start program on it? does it matter if things like backup jobs take a second or two more to start?

B. The Antec Sonata are very well regarded for good cooling and low noise. They also come with pretty decent power supplies. I can attest to this from personal experience.

I disagree about your value for money proposition for building new vs repurposing an old machine or buying a NAS, btw. The licence on Win7 will be as much as one fo the drives you need to buy, for instance.
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on May 31, 2011

Requisite link: Tom's Hardware Forums. You want System->Homebuilt. Follow their sticky regarding "how to post" and they will evaluate it or give good suggestions, taking in consideration of use and price points.

Processor/Motherboard/Video Card: Sandy Bridge is fine, but I wouldn't spend a hell of a lot of money here. The needs you list can be handled by a strong Intel Atom board except for the Blu-Ray/DVD ripping. Because of that requirement, I'd suggest the i3-2100. It's in the best gaming CPU list at Tom's Hardware at $125. I don't know motherboards well enough right now to make a flat-out suggestion, but something of the P67/Z68 chipset. I've installed both Gigabyte and Asus motherboards with good success. For a video card I'd suggest a Radeon 5670. It's available for $70-75, requires no PCI-E power connector, has a very low heat output and power usage, but will help with the video encoding and allow you to watch DVD/Blu-Ray if you connect a TV directly to the computer. Don't expect it to run games with great detail

Regarding hard drives: (in French) has been reporting on component failure rates for a while. The indication is that Western Digital or Samsung are your best bet. Be aware that WD is not good for a RAID setup unless you get their RAID class drives due to the error correction. Samsung had high failure rates in earlier versions, get a F3 or F4 drive (later versions) and definitely not a F1 (earlier version).

I second bonehead's suggestion for the Antec Sonata. Others would include some of the Lian Li and Silverstone cases.

SSD: Meh. For the usage you will have on this computer, I wouldn't spend the money. It sounds like it will be a 24/7 server and backup PC. Money not well spent.

Streaming: make sure your network is up to snuff. To move a lot of data around make sure you are running Gigabit Ethernet, especially from your switch/router to this server.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice on the SSD, guys. I see your rationale behind it and I completely agree. I'll steer clear of one of those in this build.

The i3 or i5 was where I was leaning before typing up this question. However, I really wasn't sure what I would need.

posted by decrescendo at 1:57 PM on May 31, 2011

Some software tools that might help you out:

Remote solutions:
- RealVNC (or TightVNC, UltraVNC, etc)
- Remote Media Streaming
- uRemote for uTorrent if the web interface feels too clunky.

Ripping Solutions:
- Auto Rip n' Compress (recommend MakeMKV over DVDFab or AnyDVD)

I'd also have this box launch its Media Center at startup for automated ripping and the ability to add extenders.

With that in mind, I would focus mainly on the two following hardware components:

- Memory: This will help with performance overall and should definitely be around the 3gb range for 32-bit, or 4-6gb for 64-bit.

- Processor: This will primarily affect your transcoding time for archiving DVDs and BluRay. BluRay in particular can take a long time to compress down.

- GPU: This can also affect transcoding times. I would pick a Nvidia over an ATI card in this case, as you'll get access to CUDA capabilities. ATI's stream hasn't fully caught on yet with software developers.

Also, you'll definitely want this box logging in automatically:
1. Press the Windows key + R on your keyboard to launch the “Run” dialog box.
2. Type regedit and hit enter to open the Registry Editor
3. Then browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\
4. Set AutoAdminLogon = 1 (create it if doesn't exist its a string variable)
5. Set DefaultUserName = your username (create it if doesn't exist its a string variable)
6. Set DefaultPassword = your password (create it if doesn't exist its a string variable)
posted by samsara at 6:55 AM on June 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, samsara!
posted by decrescendo at 10:29 AM on June 1, 2011

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